Rejoice in the Lord, always! Again I say, rejoice!
Today, the Church celebrates the 3rd Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. The word “Gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice.” In the Church, every liturgical celebration typically begins with what is called an entrance antiphon. It is a scripture passage that is typically chosen to highlight a particular theme that is present in the readings and prayers for that liturgy. Most of the time on Sundays, the entrance antiphon is replaced by another appropriate opening song. This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday because the entrance antiphon for today begins with the word “Rejoice.” It’s also why the priest wears rose colored vestments on this day and why the third candle in the Advent wreath is rose. Rose is the color the signifies rejoicing. We are rejoicing today. But what are we rejoicing about?
The reason the Church invites us to rejoice on this particular day is because we are getting ever closer to Christmas. We have reached the halfway point in the Advent season and Christmas Day is less than two weeks away! On that day, we will celebrate, once again, the coming of the Lord Jesus to earth – Jesus who is the source of all of our joy as Christians. We look forward with hope to that day when Jesus will return in glory, we anticipate the joy that each of us will experience when that happens. And so, we are called to rejoice in anticipation.
If we’re honest with ourselves though, we might find it a bit challenging to rejoice at times. Especially during this year, the temptation for us is to focus on the negativity, the uncertainty, the suffering that so many have endured that we find it difficult to remain rooted in the hope and the joy that this season is meant to instill within us. When we abandon that hope and we no longer feel joy, we enter into feelings of desperation – we begin to think that things are never going to change, that we will never again experience that sense of joy that we once felt.
Just think back on what we have experienced this year: a global pandemic that no one saw coming that has cut us off from family and friends from around the country; the over 1 million deaths that have happened around the world because of the coronavirus (or even those loved ones who have died from other illnesses or medical conditions); the financial hardships that many have endured in the last several months because of a lack of employment; the anxiety and fear that has come about because of the results from our recent elections; the list goes on and on. And yet, even in the midst of these challenging things that we have experienced, the Church calls us to rejoice; she calls us to remember what our source of joy is…or rather, who is the source of our joy.
The people of Israel knew what it was like to endure hardships and difficulties. Throughout their entire history, they had been conquered, enslaved, and exiled. Yet, deep within them, there was always a sense of hope that, one day, the Lord would lead them to freedom and peace. Our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah brings attention to this. Isaiah has a vision about the people of Israel being restored from their exile and it fills them with a sense of joy. It is a vision of the celebration of a “Jubilee Year, when those who have lost their land and freedom will receive [everything] back.” But the prophet’s vision doesn’t just speak about a return to glory for the Israelites, it also points to the coming of the Messiah and the work that He will accomplish. It points to Jesus! He will be the one sent by God, anointed by the Lord to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, to secure release for prisoners, to bring about vindication for the people of God. He will be the One!
Jesus is the light that John testifies to, the One who is to come. Jesus is the only one who can restore us to a sense of joy during times of hardship, during times of uncertainty. Christ’s coming at Christmas, which Advent looks forward to, is the only source of the true and lasting joy that each of us longs for. “Our hearts are thirsty for a joy that will never go away, because that’s what we were created for.”
The reading from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians speaks to us about how we are to always rejoice and to pray without ceasing, how we are called to give thanks to God in all circumstances. Even in the midst of the challenging times we experience, we are called to have grateful hearts – because it is through that gratitude that we are perfected in holiness. But that holiness can only be instilled within us if we choose to cooperate with the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. “Paul encourages us to be moved by the Spirit, but this is not just something sentimental. He teaches us to test everything to see what is truly good and what is truly evil. The good makes us profoundly happy; evil just makes us miserable if we let it… Our Lord has promised He will help us and He will do the heavy lifting in our sanctification. We just have to let ourselves be led by His Spirit.”
At this evening’s Mass, we have a few of our young people who are doing just that as they receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. I want to take a minute or two to address you all specifically. Each of you is responding to the Lord’s invitation to embrace the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Lord will make available to you the gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. You simply have to open yourselves to allowing the Spirit to use those gifts within you for building up the Kingdom of God, for pointing others to the One who is to come, for pointing others to Jesus.
Tonight, what gifts would you like the Holy Spirit to give you an abundance of? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the one gift in particular that He wants to fill your heart with. Over the next couple of months, as you reflect back on this Sacrament, I would encourage each of you to spend the time entering into a more personal relationship with the Lord. Continue reading Scripture, pray daily, come to adoration if you can, and get to Mass as often as you can. Enter into that personal relationship. Foster it. Use this time to begin to ask the Lord to help you grow in loving him. And ask for an abundant outpouring of grace into your hearts to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and lead you.
And for those of us who have already been confirmed, the Lord is challenging us with the question: are we, too, willing to allow the Spirit to utilize the gifts we have been given to lead others to Christ? Tonight, as we approach the altar, may we ask the Lord for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In the ten remaining days until Christmas, may that same Spirit fill our hearts with a sense of longing for the coming of Jesus, a longing that allows us to be drawn into deeper relationship with Him so that, on Christmas Day, we may thank him for coming to save us and be brought to a place where we can rejoice in the Lord always.
 Living the Word: Scripture Reflections and Commentaries for Sundays and Holy Days. (Franklin Park: World Library Publications, 2017), 19.
 ePriest. “Christ Brings the Deepest Joy,” from December 13, 2020, Third Sunday of Advent, Year B.
 ePriest. “Rejoice, the Messiah is Already Here,” from December 13, 2020, Third Sunday of Advent, Year B.